MWC 2019: 5G, Security & overdue innovation
Tuesday, May 7, 2019
There were no prizes for one buzzword that was going to crop up this year. With 5G airwaves less than three months away, at the earliest estimation, Barcelona was the best place to be to work out how to harness the new speeds. But thanks to Samsung and Huawei there was some alternative topic for debate.
Mobile World Congress is an event we are all familiar with for all who have spent over a year in the technology industry. Nestled nicely between the start of the calendar and the end of a lot of financial years, the show is a great barometer for what we can expect over the next 12 months and more.
Since it’s beginning in Cannes as 3G SM World, through rebranding in 2006 and up to today, the show has provided a key platform for announcements from vendors, predictions from experts and opportunity for key decision makers to meet up.
Welcomed by many who were bored of the ‘sea of smartphone sameness’ foldable devices grabbed headlines. Samsung and Huawei were among half a dozen manufacturers who launched or announced plans to launch foldable devices including LG and Nokia brand owner HMD Global at the end of February.
Samsung corporate vice president Conor Pierce says he is “confident” of the success of its foldable device adding that it may spell the end for tablets in the workplace as “people see the foldable device and question why they would need a tablet.”
However, the path to the enterprise world is fraught with questions around protection, cost of repair and uses resulting in Westcoast head of mobile Darren Seward betting foldable phones will remain a “consumer play”.
“Most people who are looking for tablets in the B2B environment want it ruggedized or want the ability to have a rugged case. A phone that is also a tablet is great, but I think it is a consumer play and for those who have lots of money and need the latest and greatest.
I don’t think it will be a massive volume play, but it is an exciting change in technology.”
Back to the (immediate) future
Despite the lack of clarity around uses (sound familiar?), the foldable devices provided a welcome distraction from 5G.
With the new airwaves set to be launched before the turn of the new year in the UK, Tutela vice president Tom Luke points out the “real focus for attendees this year was advancing 5G from aspiration to reality.”
According to Future Source research analyst James Manning Smith, where the uses for 5G in the consumer world are limited, networks see 5G as “great for industrial”.
Mobile World Congress
198 Different countries represented
120,000 Square meters of exhibits
“Last year and the year before we had these big, shouting stands about 5G but now that has toned down a little bit. There is still a lot of 5G around MWC but it is limited and people are making their suggestions of what it can do more sensible.
Part of the issue is that 5G needs a short and not very strong waves to get the highest speeds which may work very well in a city with a grid system but in a city like London where you have lots of side streets you are going to need 10x the infrastructure to place networks beaming rays at the hotspots.
That learning process is one of the bottle necks for the consumer roll out and will therefore apply to B2B which might also be limited.
There could also be problems with uptake and being able to provide a 5G service. Investment in one factory having 5G antennas on all four corners is going to be costly and may be difficult. So, there are a lot of things that will limit 5G in the short term for the learnings to happen in 5G networks when they are up and running.”
“There is definitely a divide between those who are generating this technology and those who are commercialising and monetising it.”James Manning Smith, Future Source
Cost of progress
Despite the restricted use cases of 5G for consumers, operators are pushing on with the roll out of 5G airwaves with the first plans in the UK expected within the next six months.
However, according to Amdocs marketing director Tzvika Naveh, “It seems at this point service providers are spending a lot of money on acquiring frequencies, but they are clueless about how to monetise 5G.
The most appealing use case right now is fixed wireless access (FWA), such as Verizon, and there is talk about [network] slicing but they don’t really know how to monetise 5G.”
Last year, operators in the UK shelled out close to £1.15 billion on the first round of 5G spectrum and are now keen to roll out the airwaves to the general public this year but, as Naveh alludes to, use cases are difficult to come by.
Three recently announced plans to rebrand FWA provider Relish as Three Broadband in time for a 5G rollout in the second half of 2020 however Ruckus senior vice president of worldwide sales Bart Giordano warned that 5G is not a wireless connectivity Nirvana.
“I see a lot of people talk about 5G replacing Wi-Fi, but I think they miss a very simple distinction between the two technologies. Wi-Fi or Wireless LAN connects devices on a local area network.
The spectrum for mobile networks, 5G is expensive, and it is limited to people or organisations who can go to a spectrum auction and pay billions of dollars for this licenced spectrum and pay billions of dollars to build the infrastructure. It can provide a really great experience, but Wi-Fi is an unlicensed spectrum and it is much more cost efficient to operate and deploy these networks.
The use cases for the two technologies are very complimentary and will continue to co-exist but I don’t ever see 5G replacing Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi replacing 5G because the economics are fundamentally different, the use cases that are supported are different and the trend today is that, as mobile data usage grows, the pace of consumption of Wi-Fi grows three times faster.”
“There is definitely a divide between those who are generating this technology and those who are commercialising and monetising it” said Manning Smith, “if you look at eSIM technology some operators have only just started looking at eSIMs for the Apple Watch.
But there is that reluctance to invest in their networks and develop its next generation of connectivity. There’s an essential market for industrial uses of 5G and eSIM will be important for enterprises to have their own slice of networks but I don’t know if the operators do see more potential in the industrial eSIM applications and I’m not sure if the consumer will drive the industrial uses.
It comes down to the issue where the operators have got to optimise the network before gains are to be made. They may be willing to optimise the networks for a high paying client who has a factory somewhere, but it is not going to help the average business in 2019.”
Get ready for it
Despite the scepticism facing the potential use cases, operators are continuing to spend and invest into its networks. Last Autumn Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery revealed £2 billion had been spent since 2016 at Vodafone and pledged a futher £2 billion for another two years.
Such pledges have been matched by competition and, according to A10 director of product marketing Paul Nicholson, are necessary before use cases come about.
Nicholson warns that networks need to “modernise their networks now in order to be ready for 5G” in particular warning against distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on the new networks that are touted to have 422 million connections by 2022.
“Looking at 5G, there is going to be a lot more devices on the network that need to be protected and service providers need to secure their infrastructure at all of the weakest points now to make sure that, when all the 5G devices do get turned on, they are ready for it.”
DarkMatter senior vice president of sales, marketing and business development Rabih Dabboussi also said that security should become a focus for consumers and businesses.
“With all the vulnerabilities out there and the fact that hackers are targeting mobile devices and communications, a lot of discussions are taking place around how to secure, both the consumer market as well as enterprise.
So, it was quite topical during MWC this year but not as prevalent as 5G or the latest trends in mobile devices and accessories. But the more we do on our mobile devices the more the need to secure that mobile device and the data on that mobile device.”
“It’s one of those things where you can’t fall into a sense of complacency that you are going to get extra security built in with 5G” continued Nicholson.
“The service provider will give you general protection to fit their entire network. But you can’t just rely on the service providers, you have got to put in your own defences that is more specific to what you want to protect.”
As we look ahead to the next year 5G will undoubtably dominate, not just the mobile, but technology landscape too. Seward said 5G offers an “opportunity” in enterprise because “cities, power stations and broadcasting and the internet of things, big data and Azure” are affected by 5G adding “all of these are sales opportunity for resellers and distributors.”
However, the success of the technology is still dependant on how it is sold, used and priced. Manning Smith touted a $100 to $300 price increase for the 5G mobile device to enter into the market which will undoubtably be reflected in pricing from networks.
According to Tutela VP Tom Luke, in the UK market “consumers are yet to be convinced of the life-changing magic of the IoT, or driverless cars, or remote-controlled robots.
“With all the vulnerabilities out there a lot of discussions are taking place around how to secure the consumer market, device security, as well as for enterprise.”Rabih Dabboussi, DarkMatter
Instead, to win consumers over to the idea of the new technology, organisations now need to prove that they can offer users a consistent, reliable service suitable for their day-to-day smartphone activity to justify the huge investment into spectrum auctions, research and 5G trials.
What is becoming abundantly clear is that speed alone isn’t enough to ensure quality. Customers won’t remember when they hit gigabit speeds but failed Google searches or dropped VOIP calls will stick in their minds.”
In the enterprise world, Ruckus vice president of wireless products Greg Beach said that the industry is in danger of fixating on 5G.
“I think the intelligence is applying the right technology to the right use case. 5G is the longer-term mobile technology but Wi-Fi is not going away.
IoT has a number of different connectivity protocols that are really good at delivering specific use cases so if you fast forward 3, 4, 5, 10 years you are going to have multiple technologies that are good at what they are doing.”
No matter what the technology of the future, A10 Networks and DarkMatter both agree that security will continue to be something on the minds of the enterprise.
Dabboussi said: “Smart alone is not good enough anymore unfortunately. Smart and safe is the way forward for providing intelligent solutions.”